“Sudan’s relations with the countries of Europe has shown tangible progress through increased bilateral visits and meetings and the organisation of a series of economic and cultural meetings that have prompted increased mobility in relations and corrected the negative image that the western mass media had intentionally formed about Sudan with an aim to adulterate facts and stain the country’s reputation.”
GDL: Sudan, once one of the largest and one of the most geographically diverse states in Africa, split into two countries back in July 2011 after the people in the south of the country voted for independence. Has this historical decision met people’s expectations?
AA: First of all, the people in Southern Sudan did not vote for independence as they had not been under colonisation by the north. What happened can be described as secession, as a result of the implementations of the comprehensive peace agreement which granted the people of Southern Sudan the right of self-determination.
This secession of Southern Sudan is mainly attributed to the British colonial policy, which paved the way for the secession by sowing and planting the seeds of discord and differences between the two nations since 1918, when the UK colonised Sudan. Also, separation came as the Government of Sudan reached the strong conviction that unity cannot be attained through war or by force and that the will of the southerners should be respected. This conviction has guided Sudan to engage in many conferences discussing peace issues, and the long negotiations concluded in the adoption of the right to self-determination.
By accepting the self-determination of the South does not mean that we are turning our backs on unity, for which we have worked hard and offered our utmost, exerting great efforts to make unity attractive. It would appear that the Southerners have been deceived or swindled by some countries that they will reap the fruits of separation and live in paradise. Even after the separation, Sudan was the first country in the world that recognised the new state in the South of the Sudan and the President of the Republic of the Sudan congratulated our brothers in the South on the establishment of their new state and the realisation of their dream.
Unfortunately the space constrictions of this interview will not allow me to elaborate in more detail to prove that the historical decision of the Southerners did not meet the expectations and aspirations of the people of South Sudan, because South Sudan is driven by conflict – not with Khartoum – however, with itself. Civil war and clashes erupted into a devastating war that grips the country. The International Crisis Group has estimated that more than 10,000 people may have been killed. For its part, the UN believes that the casualties are much higher and about 2 million have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The worst thing is that the political rivalries take the shape of ethnic dimensions; atrocities are being committed from both warring parties, on a tribal basis.
So we can answer your question by saying that the government of South Sudan has miserably failed in achieving any significant or tangible economic, social and democratic political development after the separation, and the notion of good governance, economic prosperity or even a viable state, remain a farfetched illusion or more a dream of many people in the South.
The West and the US, who incited and pushed for secession of South Sudan, remain passive and are now watching this civil war escalating day after day and they are no longer able to do something; I think they have discovered their mistakes and miscalculations.
GDL: How are the relations between Sudan and South Sudan now?
AA: Many positive developments were made recently in the relations between Sudan and South Sudan, like, the signing of a full matrix to implement the cooperation agreements signed between the two countries in March 2013, moreover, the President of the Republic of the Sudan issued a Presidential Decree concerning the implementation of the agreements, under his presidency, special committees were established at ministerial level.
However, the most important positive development in the relations between the two countries, set to foster confidence and lay solid foundations for future relations, would be the Official Visits of the President of the Sudan to Juba, twice in 2013, which strongly boosted the efforts to normalise relations between the two countries, as well as the Official Visit of the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, to Khartoum twice, in 2013 and 2014, which confirmed the two countries’ conviction to continue dialogue and consultation diplomacy between the leadership of the two countries to solve all outstanding issues.
These mutual visits have also marked a new phase in the history of relations and enabled political will to overcome all actual difficulties that have prevented progress being made in relations between the two countries.
In spite of all recent positive developments, the implementation of cooperation agreements are still facing great challenges and many outstanding issues have not yet been solved. Nevertheless, we can say that let us be optimistic, because the two countries have realised that their futures are closely linked if the cooperation agreements are implemented in good faith, because these agreements possess the potential to help the two countries develop trust, and hopefully become good neighbours. Both countries have suffered economic difficulties due to the lack of cooperation. However, there are indications that lessons have been learned.
There is a great hope that the cooperation agreement – if implemented and respected by the South Sudan Government, can transform our relations from that of antagonism to pragmatic symbolic development.
We can also say that the relations between the two countries can move forward if the Government of South Sudan honours its commitments and stops harbouring and supporting the rebel movements of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. South Sudan should use its influence with the former partners in arms in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile and convince them to sit down for negotiations to seek a genuine political solution to the conflict. We expect better relations if the outstanding issues are solved and then we can expect to see more mature and developed relations between the two countries, especially if the cooperation agreement is finalised and implemented. We have reasons to hope for a possibility of reunification between the two countries and a return to the situation which prevailed before 2011 after new ideas have been raised by some Southerners and political observers from the South. Although it is difficult to predict the future, let’s hope and see what will happen in the meantime.
I conclude by saying and confirming that the Government of The Sudan is very serious in its efforts to create the best possible relations with the State of South Sudan, which warrants that the Government is acting on its slogans i.e., that peace continues to be a strategic option to achieve stability between the two countries and all the countries in the surrounding region.
“I believe that Sudan, with its unlimited resources and vast areas, should be considered an attractive destination, not in terms of trade and exchange of goods, but in terms of investment, particularly in agriculture and livestock and mining, where Sudan enjoys comparative advantages in these sectors.”
GDL: How active is the role of the EU in supporting Sudan to restore peace and stability?
AA: Sudan’s relations with the countries of Europe has shown tangible progress through increased bilateral visits and meetings and the organisation of a series of economic and cultural meetings that have prompted increased mobility in relations and corrected the negative image that western mass media had intentionally formed about Sudan with an aim to adulterate facts and stain the country’s reputation.
The main goal of Sudan’s communication with the European countries was to prompt creditor countries to obliterate Sudan’s debt and provide technical and financial assistance to achieve the required growth.
In our negotiations with the countries of Europe we concentrate our efforts on demonstrating the nature of internal affairs, like the initiative of the President of the Republic of The Sudan regarding a national dialogue which is currently taking place with the participation of all political parties with a view to creating and enabling a conducive environment for comprehensive national dialogue to achieve everlasting peace in The Sudan, particularly in Darfur and South Kordofan and the Blue Nile region, and to pave the way for a peaceful transformation of power through free and fair elections which will take place in April 2015. However it is regrettable to say that the countries of Europe did nothing so far to honour their promises and commitments to support the efforts being exerted by Sudan to write off the country’s debt according to their promises.
GDL: What is the level of cooperation, between Sudan and Greece and in which sectors could the two countries expand upon?
AA: The economic and business relations between Sudan and Greece are still below the level of our aspirations. Since the re-opening of our Embassy in Athens in 2009, our relations have not witnessed any mutual visits of officials, except one visit paid by the Sudanese Minister of Agriculture in 2010 and the Governor of Khartoum.
The relations so far have not witnessed any official visits to achieve political or economic contacts or even to exercise any form of contacts in the course of normal relations between the two countries linked by historical ties since 1958. However, since 2009, we have been witnessing a comeback of Greek companies to Sudan, especially for the purpose of mining (mainly gold and chrome) and in the field of construction, agricultural products and services.
I believe that Sudan, with its unlimited resources and vast areas, should be considered an attractive destination, not in terms of trade and exchange of goods, but in terms of investment, particularly in agriculture and livestock and mining, where Sudan enjoys comparative advantages in these sectors. Therefore, the business prospects with Greece are promising, especially in the area of food security. It is to be noted that Sudan depends mostly on agricultural products and it is considered one of the world’s potential breadbaskets, especially for the Arab world.
Sudan accounts for almost 45% of arable land in the Arab world with 140 million feddans (a unit of area equivalent to 1.038 acres/0.42 ha), but the sad part is that only 20% of it is cultivated. The main reason for this is the lack of finance, which means that there are plenty of opportunities for high-profile Greek business representatives, as well as small-and-medium-sized enterprises to get involved.
I would like to talk about another sector, that of livestock, which can offer potential investment opportunities and joint ventures; there are approximately 140 million heads (cows, sheep, goats and camels) regularly exported to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, as well as to Libya, Egypt and Algeria. I therefore believe that Greek businessmen, with their technical know-how in manufacturing, meat processing and ship transportation, can seize the opportunity that this sector offers.
Another sector is that of minerals. I don’t know if you are aware that Sudan produces 150,000 barrels of oil per day; of course 70% of our income was based on oil-oriented products, but after the separation, Sudan has suffered some losses. However, we have been blessed with the discovery of gold in the country. Gold now represents one of the major revenues of Sudanese income. Our gold exports amounted to 3 billion USD in 2013.
It gives me great pleasure to mention the operation of some Greek companies in the gold sector like Aktor. Investment in gold has become very promising and attractive; especially after H.E. the President of the Republic of The Sudan inaugurated the first gold refinery, subsequently making it one of the largest constructions in Africa with a production capacity of 323 tonnes of gold per annum.
The refinery came within the Government’s strategy to compensate for the loss in oil revenues as a result of the split of the Sudanese South in 2011. According to estimations by the Ministry of Minerals, we are expecting to almost double our revenue from gold to 6 billion USD.
We should again mention here that there are other minerals, such as copper, cement, gypsum, marble, tin, sandstone and kaolin, which represent suitable opportunities for investment. It is a fact that we have limitations, and I would therefore say that manufacturing and processing should also be perceived as an advantage to those who want to enter the Sudanese market with their know-how and industrial backgrounds – and this represents another attractive opportunity for Greek investors.
GDL: What is the balance of trade exchange between Greece and Sudan and what are the possible facilities to attract Greek investors?
AA: The volume of exchange and trade balance does not reflect our political and common shared views. The trade exchange did not exceed 20 million USD according to the last report released by the Arab Hellenic Chamber of Commerce & Development. We should all work toward increasing this level of trade balance, not only in the case of Sudan, but in terms of the Greek-African relations at large. There is a lot to be done and a lot to be explored, and I call upon all of you to have your share in this regard.
Regarding the possible facilities to be offered for Greek investors, I would like to confirm that Sudan is willing to enter into a strategic partnership with the Greek Government or private sector, especially in the field of agriculture. We are ready to allocate huge areas of agricultural land free of charge within the framework of the investment law to be utilised in the field of agriculture to produce:
- Sugar cane – to establish a factory for the production of sugar from sugar cane or red beet and produce sugar for exportation.
- Animal breeding and feed production to produce and export meat to Europe.
- The production of fodder for export.
It is to be noted that the investment climate in Sudan is now more attractive after the adoption of a new investment law. The investment legislations in Sudan provide clear privileges for investors that render it distinctive both regionally and internationally. It is noteworthy to mention that the new investment law includes a number of guarantees in the legislation, for example:
The distinctive features of the investment incentive law include freedom of movement of capital and freedom of disposing of investment projects following their commencement, in addition the law does not differentiate between foreign and national investment.
It must also be noted that strategic projects are given the necessary land free of charge and non-strategic projects are given the land at an encouraging price.
GDL: What steps has the Embassy in Athens taken so far in order to further promote the bilateral relations between Sudan and Greece?
AA: In order to promote the bilateral relations between the two countries and to benefit from the investment opportunities which I have mentioned above, I have proposed the following to the relevant department at the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
- To establish a Greek-Sudanese Chamber of Commerce in order to increase the volume of trade exchange between the two countries. So far we have succeeded in this regard and the necessary preparations are currently underway to start soon.
- An exchange of mutual visits of officials between the two countries to explore business opportunities.
I hope that relations between Sudan and Greece will gain fresh impetus with the new Hellenic Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
- To sign an agreement to establish a joint council for business association in the two countries.
- To sign an agreement in the field of protection and encouragement of investment.
- To sign an agreement to prevent dual taxation between the two countries.
- Participation in international trade fairs in the two countries.
Ultimately, we may say that through political will and mutual visits amongst officials of the two countries, we will create a climate conducive for closer ties between Sudan and Greece in all areas of cooperation, particularly in the field of joint investments.
Sudan with its unique geopolitics and huge natural recourses, can address the issue of scarcity and high food prices and it is high time to revive and expand our ties for the benefit of both our peoples and the world at large.
“The move of the African leaders has been received with satisfaction and acceptance. I think it represents a warning message from African leaders, which may evolve into a decision to pull out from the Court, because some leaders are beginning to feel that the ICC has been designed as a tool by some western powers to target African leaders on a selective basis.”
GDL: Sanctions imposed on Sudan since late 1997 have been partially relaxed since the separation of South Sudan, but some sanctions remain in force. What is the impact of the sanctions on The Sudan? And how is your relationship with the US now?
AA: Up to this moment, I can say that our relations with the United States are still stagnant, in view of the persistence of the American administration to associate the normalisation of its relations with Sudan with its internal affairs. The US also continues to impose unilateral sanctions on Sudan which have again been renewed this year.
The American side expresses its desire to continue the dialogue to resolve the matters on which it disagrees with Sudan, however Sudan believes in the importance of dialogue, provided that it will lead to tangible results, without any interference in its internal affairs.
We also think that it is a matter of priority that the American administration strike off Sudan’s name from the so-called list of countries that sponsor terrorism and to abrogate the sanctions imposed on Sudan since 1997.
The American side insists on imposing these sanctions, despite their statement that Sudan does not have anything to do with terrorism; it is for pure political reasons, which is unacceptable for Sudan and contrary to reason and good conscience.
In my opinion, I think that the unfair sanctions aim to destabilise Sudan, targeting its unity and territorial integrity.
We therefore blame the US for its policy which has caused all the suffering of the Sudanese people and that the impact of the unfair sanctions clearly affects the lives of the citizens in Sudan and their living conditions, leaving a negative impact, particularly on agriculture and pharmaceutical industries.
It is to be noted that, in spite of the economic sanctions imposed on Sudan, the US is the highest importer of Arabic-Gum from Sudan because the US economic interests, require the use of Arabic-Gum in large quantities for diverse sectors, most notably in the area of soft drinks and the food and pharmaceutical industries.
Also the spread of the Ebola disease in West Africa makes Sudan the only attractive country in the region that can export Arabic-Gum to the US. Therefore, America has recently decided to deal directly with Sudan to import Arabic-Gum which demonstrates the importance of Sudan for the US economic interests.
Moreover, we would like to confirm that all the reasons that led to the American sanctions are no longer present, since Sudan has fulfilled all its obligations to achieve peace in South Sudan, which has become an independent country, and Sudan was the first state to recognise it and we have implemented the Doha Peace Agreement for peace in Darfur and the peace treaty in eastern Sudan.
GDL: African leaders have called for the suspension or termination of charges at the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto at the recent 24th Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Addis Abba. How did your Government receive this statement?
AA: Commenting on this question, I would like to firstly state or announce that The Sudan is adherent to its sound and legal position, that the ICC has no jurisdiction over The Sudan since it is not a party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC.
Moreover the Security Council Resolution No. 1593, which forwarded the case of The Sudan to the ICC, clearly contradicts the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of International Treaties of 1969.
Secondly, the decision of the Prosecutor General to indict a sitting President is contrary to the stable rules of International Law and the precedents of the International Court of Justice related to the immunity of Heads of State.
The move of the African leaders has been received with satisfaction and acceptance. I think it represents a warning message from African leaders, which may evolve into a decision to pull out from the Court, because some leaders are beginning to feel that the Court has been designed as a tool by some western powers to target African leaders on a selective basis. So, the main criticism of the ICC is that it only prosecutes Africans, pursues selective justice, and, moreover, has nothing to do with justice. It is a political court.
GDL: In the past there were more than 12,000 Greeks living in Sudan and they became good Sudanese citizens. Now they number less than 250. What is the feeling of the Sudanese people toward their Greek compatriots?
AA: The Sudanese-Greek political relationship has been established since 1958 and can be characterised by its historical bonds and social dimensions in the presence of an ancient Greek community in Sudan.
The numbers were estimated in the thousands in the past, but there still are considerable numbers today. Most members of the Greek community in Sudan enjoy Sudanese nationality, either by birth or by nationalisation. Therefore, they enjoy all the rights of citizenship guaranteed in the Sudanese Constitution.
The Greek community also maintains a good reputation, as they have made a remarkable contribution in Sudan both culturally and economically. They have always been respected and appreciated by all sectors of Sudanese for their positive contributions to the well-being of the country.
As a result of our intimate, friendly and respected feelings toward the Greek community, we are hopeful that they will return again.
I cannot fail to mention here that, up to 1960, most of roads in Khartoum (the Sudanese capital) were written in three languages: Arabic, English and Greek. Schools for Greek students were providing education to the Greek community up to the high level of secondary school. The Greek Club (HAC) in Khartoum was bustling with life and was a popular venue for Greeks and Sudanese alike.
We therefore hope that the Greeks will once again return to Sudan to participate and contribute in the reconstruction of the country, and without doubt, our doors are wide open to receive them once again.
In conclusion, I would like to deeply thank you for presenting me with this opportunity to present Sudan’s current situation and would like to use this occasion to sincerely congratulate the newly-elected Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and the new Government and wish them every success and good wishes to achieve the goals and objectives of the Greek nation.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life
Published in February 2015